Next Government urged to put design at the heart-of decision-making

Ahead of the 7 May General Election in the UK, a cross-party group of parliamentarians has released a new manifesto calling for design to become central to the way the next government operates.

Image by flickr user William Warby
Image by flickr user William Warby

A cross-party group of leading parliamentarians is calling on the next government to put design at the heart of the UK’s political, economic and education systems to ensure “the opportunities of the future are fully realised”.

The call comes in new publication Thinking, Making, Testing: A Manifesto for design, which is being released by the All-Party Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group. It has been written by architect Lord Richard Rogers, Baroness Whitaker and MPs Carline Dinage and Barry Sheerman.

The report – released in advance of the 7 May General Election – makes the case for bringing design thinking into key main policy areas: industrial strategy, public services and government infrastructure, housing and the built environment and education.

Among the recommendations made are that the government should appoint a chief advisor for design and innovation; that “design thinking” should become an integral part of design teaching in the education system; and that design should be given the same consideration as sustainability – no longer a “nice to have” but instead a central pillar of government policy.

Other recommendations include that civil servants should be trained in basic service design methods and that there should be an improved understanding of design and innovation spend in the public sector.

Naomi Turner, head of the Manufacturing, Design and Innovation Group at Policy Connect, co-ordinated the report. She says: “The APDIG officers, together with industry, support, wanted to seize the opportunity ahead of the General Election to set out their asks of the next government.”

“Design policy can be a complex area – not only relating to the creation of amendable business conditions for the design industry; but of the growing interest in design for government itself.”

Turner adds: “We have seen some real progress in this government for design, with significant growth for the sector even in the context of a buoyant creative economy – although I suspect that, through using metrics more indicative of contemporary design practice, this figure could be much greater.

“We should also not forget that this government has made real progression on using design techniques both at the heart of government (by the Policy Lab in the Cabinet Office) and for service delivery, namely the Government Digital Service.

“However, the officers are right to be concerned about the sustainability of UK design in the near future. The number of pupils studying Design and Technology at GCSE since 2003 has halved. Design research at universities tends to be funded within arts and humanities regimes only, which is hugely limiting to a discipline where the greatest social and economic gains are likely to made when used in the realm of science and technology.”

The report also argues that despite being recognised by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills as the fastest growing creative industry, design is still “undervalued” by government and that the sector is particularly threatened by a skills shortage.

Report co-author Barry Sheerman MP says: “The figures for the design industry are certainly impressive… However, the design industry needs support from government in order to continue to flourish, in particular making sure that enough children opt to study Design and Technology and other design-related subjects at GCSE.”

Turner says the report is aimed at manifesto writers for political parties as well as government ministers and their staff in the new Parliament. She says it she hopes it will also be used as a “tool” for new and incumbent MPs to help them understand design’s potential.

Turners says: “Given its commitment to cross-party, bi-partisan consensus building, a big part of the APDIG’s role is also to educate parliamentarians on what design is and what it can do. Not a denigrated indulgence for creatives or a matter of styling, but a fundamental discipline that, when applied, leads to significant social insight and economic gain.”

You can read the Thinking, Making, Testing Manifesto for Design in full here.

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